Tag Archives: gardening

The Relief of Mattocking

Having come across it in an archaeological context (I have written on many occasions about my brief career as an archaeologist), I did not expect to find a mattock in a garden shed.  To be fair, it is a rather smaller mattock than I’ve been used to, having only one blade and no ‘pickaxe’ bit on the other side, so that at first I took it for a hoe.  But hoe it is not.  It is, as I told Daniel in an effort to engage his enthusiasm, an earth-smasher, a clod-annihilator, a veritable soil-threshing machine.  And it worked!  He smashed away with vim and vigour and mattocked half the area marked out for him to plant his own stuff in.

For which relief, much thanks.  And if you don’t get the reference, you must be younger than I am:


Speaking of Daniel’s enthusiasm, he has been far from idle.  In addition to learning classical and folk guitar, he is producing some stonking graphic art.  Take a look at this speed-video of him working:

That’s it for today.  Too hot to write much.

Kirk out


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Instead of Cats

I’ve never really been a cat person; I grew up with dogs and appreciate their ability to learn words and obey commands.  A dog is a companion, whereas a cat is an occasional visitor.  But plants?  How can plants keep you company?

Well, ever since I started on the garden here, I’ve been talking to my plants.  I welcome them the moment they show their shoots, and say hello to them every morning.  I tell them how beautiful they are and how brilliantly they’re doing.  When my potatoes poke their dark-green leaves through the soil I say how lovely it is to see them; when tomatoes thrive and grow bushy I give them plenty of praise.

There are two reasons why I think this benefits them.  First is the obvious: that I am exhaling carbon dioxide in their vicinity so that they can breathe it in.  Second – and this is just my opinion – I think it gives me a closer connection to them, which results in me looking after them more effectively and noticing problems early.  Just as the more you talk to your dog the more likely you are to notice when they’re off-colour, so it is with plants.

But it doesn’t end there.  I have a graded system of reward and punishment.  I am mildly discouraging towards herb bennett, harshly critical towards dandelions, vitriolic with brambles and ivy, and openly hostile with the current bane of my life, horsetail.  Equisetum arvense, as it is Latinly known, is one of the most ferociously invasive weeds ever.  Its roots can go down as far as five feet (yes, five feet!) and are soil-coloured: failure to remove any part of a root, however small, will result in lots of little pony-tails springing up like a miniature forest.  Not only that, but instead of flowers these plants have spore-bearing tips which, if disturbed, will scatter tiny spores over a wide area like a giant horsetail sneeze.

I’ve read a lot about this, and the advice seems to be, don’t try to dig it out.  Pinch or cut off at soil level and keep at it 24/7.  If you do this for the next five years you might stand a chance of getting rid of it.  Alternatively you can use weed-killer but first you have to crush the plant as it has silica in the stem and so will not absorb it otherwise.

And yet in spite of all this I can’t help having a sneaking respect for horsetail.  It’s clearly a primeval plant – you can tell that just by looking – and in prehistoric times it was much larger.  In fact it was a full-grown tree.  It’s kind of interesting, if abhorrent, to see this tiny tree-like thing poking through the soil; and I can’t help respecting its persistence.  In addition it has various herbal uses,  such as treating urinary incontinence and some kinds of arthritis.

I’d better stop talking about this now otherwise OH will want us to grow the stuff deliberately…

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, herbalism

May the Third be With You

Image may contain: shoes and outdoor

Yeah, I know – it’s May the Fourth be with you; but I just couldn’t wait till tomorrow to write this post.  May is a fertile month for puns: the election slogan ‘Let June be the end of May’ is doing the rounds, and yesterday there was a great clue in the Guardian crossword, to which the answer was ‘Woman Prime Minister.’  Can you guess what the clue was?  (Answer below).

I realised this morning that it’s been a week since I last posted, and that People Will Be Pining for a Post.  So, what’s been happening?  Well basically the garden has been happening; since, as anyone who has a patch of soil will know, now is the Crucial Time to Get Things In.  So I have been diligently digging and weeding; have re-subscribed to the garden bin service, set the compost going, planted seeds and watered seedlings, bought potting compost, stuffed comfrey leaves in a bottle where they will gradually liquefy and make a plant food; and generally done all the stuff one does at this time of year.

Two months ago the garden was a mass of brambles and ivy; it is now partly cleared and dug and ready to receive what I am about to plant – to whit, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, mint (I wonder if the potatoes will come up ready-minted?) and spinach.

Gardening is work: there’s no getting away from it.  You have to dig and weed and dig and weed, and weed again, and then when you’ve finished there will be more weeds.  And since I utterly refuse to use weedkillers like Roundup which are spectacularly bad for the environment, that’s how it’s gonna be.

But gardening is great on so many levels: you get to watch the miracle of growth day by day (my tomato seeds are now tiny two-leaved seedlings and my little feathery plants are ready to go out into the big wide world).  You get to play a part in this great miracle by enabling things to grow: you get the pleasure of watching, tending and finally eating the things that you’ve grown.  But more than this, gardening quite literally earths you.  I have a theory about this – well, to be fair it’s not just my theory; it comes from karma yoga – that enlightenment doesn’t just come from meditation, it comes from doing humble tasks.  We all live too much in our heads: our dealings with the physical world, and particularly with the natural world, are confined to a weekend walk or a stroll in the park.  This is very unhealthy – and the greatest antidote to that is to get out and dig the soil.  If you are going mad from too many ideas; if your brain is spinning with emails or meetings or concepts or creative concepts; if you can’t get out of your head – then go outside and dig a bit of earth.  It’s the best.

I grew up with the idea that gardening was a massive chore – not surprising, in view of the fact that our garden was half an acre of wilderness and that my parents had no help with it at all.  But the garden I have now, though neglected, is manageable, and the sense of achievement is prodigious.

Pro-DIG-ious.  Ho ho.

Hoe hoe.

Kirk out

PS the crossword clue was ‘May the Second’.  Good eh?

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When You Have Nothing to Say…

…say nothing.  That’s advice I’ve been following for the last couple of weeks, but a blog can only stay silent for so long before people Begin to Wonder.  It’s like radio silence – if it goes on too long people begin to question whether the station is there at all.

Speaking of radio silence, the other day this was stretched to the limit during the broadcast of Pinter’s play ‘Betrayal.’  It’s a good title, since the play itself is a betrayal, heaping insult onto injury by making public Pinter’s affair with Joan Bakewell.  She wrote her own play in retaliation (also broadcast) but no such redress was available to Vivien Merchant, the wronged wife, who not only had to suffer the pain of her husband’s affair but then the indignity of having it plastered all over the stage.  I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel if it was me.

But the Beeb were flirting with danger in other ways too.  As anyone familiar with Pinter knows, his plays are pregnant with pauses, so much so that the phenomenon is known as the ‘Pinter pause’:


A Pinter character can barely say half a dozen words without lapsing into a brooding silence.  Which is not to say that the pauses are contrived or meaningless; far from it – a pause, a silence, can convey far more than any number of words when used in the right way.  Pinter could almost have been a Quaker (except that it is not very Quakerly to have an affair and then write a play about it!)  Anyway, this is me breaking my radio silence and telling you all that I am Still Here.  I’ve mostly been in the garden, digging up stubborn brambles with roots the size (although not the shape) of my head, and ivy that has convoluted and thickened everywhere.  Ivy horrifies me, the way it embraces and kills every other living thing: it’s very cathartic to rip it apart and chuck it in the garden bin.  We have just signed up to this scheme, which gets you a brown bin that’s emptied fortnightly.

I promise from now on to blog more often than the garden bin is emptied.  Hope you all had a good Easter.  Anyway, here’s the play, featuring Andrew Scott who was so brilliant as Moriarty in Sherlock:


and here’s Joan Bakewell’s riposte:


Kirk out

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Happiness is a Small Plot

As a writer I often sit down with a bunch of ideas, happily bimbling along and sooner or later I think, ‘I suppose right about now something ought to happen.  Oh no.  Must something happen?  Must there be some sort of plot?’  Meanwhile JK Rowling has sketched out her first novel, sorted out several plot twists and connected them to the further six novels she has in the pipeline.  See, plot is the one thing that doesn’t come naturally to me.  Ideas, concepts, conceits, dialogue, description, word-play – they all trip off the pen.  But ask me to make something happen – that’s a different story.

But! the plot I have in mind today is of an altogether different sort.  It is the beloved plot, the blessed rod, pole or perch of land which I call my garden.  And at the bottom of it, where there was once a tangle of nettles, I have now planted some poppy-seeds and covered the bed with mulch.  And it looks lovely.  Even more satisfyingly, I made the mulch myself out of shredded branches and hedge-clippings.

So who cares about narrative?  While I have my poetry and my garden, I’m happy.  And JK Rowling can be queen of the plot.

Kirk out

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Filed under Book reviews, friends and family, my magnum hopeless

Ear, Ear

That’s it – I’m officially fed up now.  My ears have decided to seal themselves off and have produced enough wax to candle an entire church.  Previously they were alternating, so that I could hear with one ear at a time, but now both ears have completely walled themselves up like anchorites so that I need subtitles when people are speaking.  I tried to get an appointment at the doctor’s but couldn’t so now I’m stuck with it.  I wonder if I can learn to lip-read before Drink and Think tonight?  Hmm – I suspect not.

It makes you appreciate what it must be like to be deaf though; and I have been reflecting, as I’ve been gardening (practically the only activity besides reading which doesn’t require a properly cleansed auditory canal) on what it must be like to be deaf.  And as I cleared a patch of nettles and wondered whether someone was creeping up on me or calling me from the house, I was thinking about how difficult and isolating it must be to have a hearing problem.  There is an idea that your other senses heighten to compensate, but to me it seems that the other senses are, if anything, dulled.  I feel as if I’m living in cotton wool; it’s hard to focus or even to think.  It’s weird – it’s not exactly painful, but almost.  I feel like a balloon being slowly inflated to bursting-point, or a chamber being compressed bit by bit.  It is most unpleasant.  But it does help me to understand how isolating deafness is; and to be thankful that I don’t normally have to suffer this.

Think clear, everyone!

Kirk out


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Losing Ten Kilos and Gaining a Thali and a Bike

Mark has made it!  69.1 kilos this morning, which means he’s hit his target of 70 kg.  He really looks different – slim instead of a bit paunchy; and in honour of the occasion he’s going to cook a thali from scratch.  That means a whole smorgasbord on a tray; 2 different curries, a sauce, puris or chappattis, rice, salad, yoghurt and a sweet which will be gulab jamun.


Challenging!  But perhaps not as challenging as losing 10 kilos…

Alas!  I am not losing any weight; so I am going to look at a bike this morning, in the hope that I’ll be able to get it fixed and start cycling again.  I’m clearly not getting enough aerobic exercise: I do my yoga in the morning and I go for a walk later but neither of those things is aerobic, and the rest of the day I’m seated.  Unless I do a bit of gardening, that is.

So, what have I been reading this week?  The Colm Toibin novella, ‘The Testament of Mary’ was highly evocative and compelling; alas, I have problems with atheist versions of religious stories, not because I’m anti-atheist but because they always seem to have an axe to grind.  This even extends to the other book I’m reading – however, the imaginative power of ‘The Amber Spyglass’ more than compensates for these issues as the story-telling is quite incredible.  When you first read these books you are utterly mesmerised; it’s a feeling similar to reading the Narnia books for the first time, except that there’s a lot more to figure out.  He doesn’t give the reader much; no explanation or back-story; you just have to work it out for yourself.  So if you haven’t yet caught up with ‘His Dark Materials,’ do so.  It’s a brilliant read, and the film is great too – it’s just sad that they didn’t finish the trilogy.  I’d swap that for the bloody Hobbit any day:



Kirk out


Filed under Book reviews, film reviews, friends and family, God-bothering